Planning their nuclear fusion experiments

30th March 2016

Posted By Paul Boughton

Virtalis Visionary Render Virtual Reality (VR) software is being used by scientists and both optical and mechanical design engineers involved in nuclear fusion research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US.

For more than half a century, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has applied cutting-edge science and technology to enhance national security.  In use since 2014, Visionary Render replaced outdated software to visualise its model and is helping scientists to plan changes to experiments within the National Ignition Facility (NIF).

Paul Bloom, a mechanical designer at Lawrence Livermore, explained: “Our model of the NIF is both very large and highly complex.  It combines models from several CAD platforms and neutral CAD exchange formats.  There is no question that the model would be far too difficult to review using a standard CAD program, as the model would be too large to navigate in real time.  It was therefore with trepidation that we transferred the files across to Visionary Render from the older software.  Not only did everything transfer perfectly, but there was a visual upgrade – suddenly all the surfaces looked much more realistic.”

The goal of many NIF experiments is to create a self-sustaining ‘burn’ of fusion fuel (the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium) that produces as much, or more, energy than the energy required to initiate the fusion reaction — an event called ignition.  The laser beams are amplified throughout the stadium-sized facility, and enter the target chamber where they are focused on a pea-sized piece of cryogenically frozen fusion fuel.  NIF’s 192 laser beams travel about 1,500 metres from their birth to their destination at the centre of the spherical target chamber.  Yet the journey from start to finish takes only about five microseconds.

Following the completion of NIF’s construction in 2009, scientists focused on installing, qualifying and integrating the facility’s many systems, as well the required scientific platforms to support a wide variety of experiments.  Precision experiments devoted to ignition began in 2011 and now hundreds of physicists, optical engineers, mechanical designers, electrical designers and mechanical engineers are working on this project.

Diagnostic near Target chamber- upper floor viewed using Visionary Render software at Lawrence Livermore National LaboratoryAll levels of scientists, engineers, and designers have found visualising the NIF model in Visionary Render software extremely helpful in deciding on future design possibilities, such as installing diagnostic hardware in this complex and crowded space, most especially around the spherical target chamber. The views into the chamber ports give a realistic and variable field of view, mimicking what the diagnostic instrument placed on that port will ‘see’, plus any interference problems that may arise. Animations of interference checks have been especially useful, allowing the movement of virtual models through a fully populated representation of the NIF facility to optimise rigging and transport paths.

“Visionary Render really proves its worth when we need to test alterations to the laser”, said Bloom.  “Recently, we needed to curtain off a section, but it wasn’t clear where the laser light would be escaping.  I put a virtual green light source into our Visionary Render model and it was instantly apparent where the shielding was required.  We also use our model to keep track of every physical change that takes place, as it is extraordinarily crowded and any new equipment needs thorough testing to be certain of the impact of the installation, enhancing health and safety within a potentially hazardous environment.  This is where the greater level of immersion afforded by VR is so valuable.  Our HMD allows 3D exploration of the model to check different views.”

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